Body Confidence

The Sunday Times carried an article today by Marie Woolf on how the Liberal Democrat Body Confidence campaign which was founded by myself and Jo Swinson will be carried forward in government. In the coalition agreement – there is a reference to ‘responsible advertising and the commercialisation and sexualisation of children’. So it fits partly with that – but partly too – with the public health part of the agreement.

There is a growing army of programs, articles, etc because there is a growing awareness of the detriment caused. We always hear about eating disorders – but whilst there is some evidence of a connection in this regard – there are often more reasons than one for that devastating outcome. However, additionally, the constant pressure to look impossibly perfect, be like the skinny celebrities and conform to imposed stereotypes is creating a rising tide of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and so on.

Gok Wan’s ‘How to Look Good Naked’, Susie Orbach; Erin O’Connor, Debra Bourne and Caryn Franklin’s campaign: All Walks Beyond the Catwalk; Girl Guides with their campaign on anorexia and bulimia – and many more – all recognising the pressure now applied to women, girls and coming up fast – men too – to conform to impossibly perfect images.

In the last session, Jo and I held a seminar on Body Confidence. There are so many groups out there working on this issue – because of the constant and unremitting diet of false images that is fed to us and the harm it is doing. Backed by academics and the Royal College of Psychiatrists – the campaign to make advertisements honest and transparent, teach children media literacy, get fashion schools to teach students to cut a range of sizes, encourage more and different sports for young people – found itself joining up with a whole host of work in the same direction.

That seminar was pivotal. When we saw the work and the need for a joined up push back at the fashion, beauty, food , magazine and advertising industries being fought by individual Davids against these mega Goliaths – we brought it to last Autumn’s LibDem conference as part of our new ‘Real Women’ policy paper – where it passed. It was also in our manifesto at the election.

The Conservatives too, have been very concerned about the pressure particularly on young girls – hence the inclusion of all of this in the coalition agreement. 

In the autumn, we are gathering some of the key people who want to take this forward to a round table discussion on next steps. Amongst those will be representatives from: Girl Guides, YMCA, Mumsnet, All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, Susie Orbach and others.

We have no desire to impose regulation or restriction on advertisers or others – so we will be looking to work with the industries involved on a voluntary basis – in the first instance.

Campaign for Body Confidence

Something really fantastic happened yesterday. Readers of this blog will know that Jo Swinson MP and myself have been leading a campaign to push back against the overwhelming onslaught of overly perfected images of the human form that come at us constantly from the beauty, media, fashion, diet industries. We have reached the point where we know that what once seemed relatively harmless – is damaging us. Depression, anxiety, lack of self esteem, eating disorders are on the rise – in women, young people especially – and are rising in men too.

Yesterday Jo and I held a summit for all those individuals and groups who are working away in their different spheres of influence to push back against the mega-buck industry onslaught that feeds off of making us feel bad about ourselves.

Last autumn, Liberal Democrat passed our policy paper for Women – which whilst it had many policies on equal pay, violence against women, etc – also had a section on body image – and it was this part of our policy paper that caught light in the media – and more importantly – resonated with real people out in the country who are in touch with this problem on a daily basis.

Essentially our paper proposes the labelling of advertisements that have been digitally enhanced or airbrushed (transparency and honesty in advertising);  would require models to have health certificates demonstrating that their BMI is healthy; encourages sport and exercise in schools and a widening from the traditional sports on offer to include young people who don’t feel comfortable in those particular sports; would introduce media literacy and body confidence in the PSHE lessons in schools and in the fashion colleges require students to be taught to cut for sizes other than simply a six or eight size.

Our campaign has gained the backing of world-wide academics, doctors and clinical psychologists – who have provided the evidential base to make this case. We are also supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists who are backing our call for labelling digitally altered advertisements; by BEAT, by the Girl Guides and many others.

Jo had an adjournment debate on body image and Baroness Thompson had a debate in the Lords on media literacy.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received five complaints only last year about airbrushing (clearly they don’t promote complaining to them) as when we found an advertisement that had been so altered – it was Twiggy advertisig Olay eye cream – where she had been very digitally enhanced and put it on our Campaign for Real Women website – 700 complaints came in to the ASA and the advertisement was withdrawn.

Obviously that is just a tiny example of how people can make things change – but the ASA doesn’t seem to be that interested in labelling or taking on this challenge and will only work single ad by single ad.

Hence – our summit. What we have found is that there are a lot of individuals and groups working away at trying to push back against the harm that is being done. Yesterday we drew people involved in this campaign – in all their different ways – together for a summit.

Jo chaired the meeting and the speakers were myself, Caryn Franklin, TV presenter and founder of ‘All Walks Beyond the Catwalk’ – a campaign for diversity in the fashion industry; Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue and Bodies; Big Ideas and convener of AnyBody campaign; Dr Helga Dittmar, academic and author of Consumer Culture, Identity and Well-Being and The search for the ‘good life’ and ‘body perfect and Laurie Penny – feminist blogger and freelance journalist.

Also there was Linda Papadopoulos – whose independent report for the Government on the sexualisation of children was published last week.

Each speaker drove home from their own field of expertise the very real issues that have driven all of us to arrive at this point – where we are basically all saying enough is enough – and fighting to push back against the conformity to the cult of the thin, the perfect and the consumer.

The contributions from the floor were equally forceful covering a plethora of issues aligned to the key issues addressed in this summit.

The ambition of the summit was to draw these strands together and to form a loose collective where we all continue in our own spheres to push forward the campaign for body confidence and to which we are all committed and pledged to meet at least twice a year to move forward the agenda and to report back on actions and successes.

The energy, determination and sheer force of the arguments were literally buzzing – and I have no doubt that this campaign will go from strength to strength. Small steps from each of us will be how to eat this elephant – and whilst the individual steps like getting misleading adverts to have to declare by labelling the extent to which they have been digitally enhanced are relatively small – at the other end of the scale lies many of the reasons for the ills in society from the obesity epidemic to violence against women.

Everyone there has signed the pledge to Campaign for Body Confidence. We will all keep in touch through this network now – and fight together and individually to further the cause.